Mary asked for my response to an editorial in the CS Monitor. I am going to take it point by point and comment.
I was surprised to see Vilsack named, because he has no background in agriculture. The critiques, though, were far from "well documented" or even every persuasive.A food agenda for Obama
Now's the time to reinvent America's farm and food policies.
By Christopher D. Cook
from the December 26, 2008 edition
San Francisco - Within hours of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack's nomination last week as Agriculture secretary, websites were humming with well-documented critiques of his affinity for genetically engineered crops, agribusiness giant Monsanto, heavily polluting factory farms, and other Big Farm interests.
Some critics expressed outrage, others surprise, especially since they had mounted a vigorous, 55,000-plus strong online petition to persuade President-elect Barack Obama to nominate someone more progressive who would promote sustainable food and farming.
"At taxpayer expense" always worries me, because it is such a right wing talking point. Yes, the federal government subsidizes farming, or more accurately subsidizes eating. Yes, the subsidies go to row crops - wheat, corn, soy - and yes, that makes for cheap feed for livestock, and yes welthy people who are not even farmers game the system and gobble up a lot of the subsidy dollars.The need for sweeping change could not be clearer when it comes to our food: At taxpayer expense, current policy subsidizes large corporate farms and destructive industrial agriculture, which rob the countryside of economic diversity and precious environmental resources, such as water and topsoil.
However, that is not "current policy" since the last Farm Bill caps subsidies to the big players and also send money to "specialty crops" - fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
The author strings some bad things together here that are not necessarily connected - "large corporate farms," "destructive industrial agriculture," robbing the countryside of "economic diversity," and robbing "precious environmental resources." Water is given as an example of robbed precious resources, as is "soil." That is a tip off right there, since water cannot be destroyed. Misused and polluted, controlled and denied to people, yes, but there is no way to "rob" water.
Capitalism is the cause of the problems in agriculture. Since liberals can't say that, they have to come up with these fanciful scenarios and catchy phrases. The same phrases get used over and over again until everyone assumes they are true. "At taxpayer expense" is the solution, not a problem. The liberals are true believers is the "free market" and "personal choice" consumerism in lieu of public food and agriculture programs. They want "green" and "organic" choices when they shop, and argue for that with religious zeal. It is the free market they worship, not "sustainable farming" as they claim, because they don't have a clue what that means.
What does the phrase "large corporate farms" mean? Grain is grown on large spreads. Why not? Very few farms are incorporated. Specialty crops are grown on smaller farms. Specialization and monocropping are caused by a number of factors - the population that would support 100 acre farms with everything from dairy to fruit has moved too far away from the farms; price pressure has reduced the margin of error, so farmers must concentrate on what they can grow with the least risk; food ignorance among the public has led to demand for fewer varieties, demand for appearance and size over nutrition and flavor, and little awareness of seasons and regional differences.
"Economic diversity" is another code phrase, that represents converting farm land to non-farm uses. Farming itself is diversity - communities are largely self-sufficient.
Enforcement and regulation have collapsed, yes.These same subsidies, and anemic regulatory enforcement, encourage an increasingly monopolized food system, and a "cheap food" policy that lards us with fatty, processed foods – the cost of which is ultimately dear, more than $100 billion annually for obesity and diet-related diseases. Today's food system also generates a sizable portion of America's greenhouse gases, and rests on fast-dwindling and volatile oil supplies.
"Cheap food" was the idea, yes, when the government intervened because people were facing famine. What is wrong with "cheap food?" The author betrays his upper class pretensions right there. The author is perfectly free to go buy his expensive "organic" or gourmet or whatever, but farming must feed all of the people, not just the beautiful few, the "progressives" with their fussy and ill-informed preferences.
"Processed foods" has absolutely nothing to do with farming. It is just thrown in to the mix in order to raise fears and confuse people. You may as well blame iron mines for gunshot deaths. But gratuitous and false swipes at farmers and farming like this reveal the true liberal agenda. It is farmers and farming they are attacking, not "corporations" not "Monsanto" (though I wish they would) and mist certainly not capitalism or Wall Street. They attack farming because it is cooperative, it is regulated, it is egalitarian in its commitment to feed all of the people, it is largely socialized and protected from the financial industry. They want their free market organic choices and they want "green" and "enlightened" capitalism. That is a threat to agriculture.
Then we have "today's food system also generates a sizable portion of America's greenhouse gases." WTF ever. Can anyone translate that for me?
The last point is a lie, and a common one - agriculture "rests on fast-dwindling and volatile oil supplies ." The use of oil on farms supports suburbia, not farming. It allowed 90% of the people living on the farm to move to suburbia and do whatever it is they do there - all of it "sustainable" and "organic" no doubt. (eye roll) If we stop using oil on the farm, the people on the suburbs will have to move back to and work on farms. Nothing will change in farming. It is suburbia that is unsustainable, not farming. Farming is being perverted to support suburbia.
Can we go back to change we can believe in? geez.Now is the time for something different – change we can eat.
Nonsense. None of this feeds the public nor does it support agriculture. It caters to the whims and fancies of people in the upper 10% income bracket, spoiled people who have no concept of food or food production, while the needs of the rest of the population are neglected. It creates a two-tier food system - one for the privileged few, and another for the unwashed masses who are "insufficiently evolved" and have the wrong spiritual values.As Mr. Obama weighs a massive stimulus package, he should include new funding streams that promote sustainable food – to build up alternatives such as farmer's markets, local "foodshed" programs that promote consumption of local produce, and farm-to-institution projects that encourage schools, hospitals, and other large buyers to purchase local organic foods when possible.
No federal money should go to food boutiques and yuppie organic utopias.
Schools and hospitals already bu
y local produce, thanks to existing government programs.
We have been over "organic" many times. Suffice it to say that it is an illusion and a hustle.
Such a lie. Te author has concocted together a very weak thesis here that blames farming for all of the problems in the world, all for the purpose of pushing a very narrow, elitist, libertarian and reactionary agenda.The change we need in food is as urgent as any we face – changes that affect national health, energy security, global warming, and more.
The missing ingredient is farmers and farm workers. There is no way that suburbia can survive and we can also have diversified (the 100 acre grow everything model from 50 years ago) farms unless 90% of the people now living in suburbia move back to the farm. Since that is not going to happen, that means that this funnels public funds into farming that only serves the few - the organic zealots and foodies.1. New public investments targeting sustainable agriculture, defined as organic, small- to mid-sized, diversified farming.
Every time he slips the word "organic" into a sentence, that means food for the upscale few. Otherwise, what he is advocating already exists - to serve all of the people.2. New investments in local/regional food networks and foodsheds – to help build up the connections between farmers and consumers, to open up and expand new markets for organic farmers and those considering the transition; for more farmer's markets and food stores that feature local produce.
Still no mention of "capitalism" or the financial industry, or the energy industry, or development and suburbanization, or "free trade" as the causes of the problems in agriculture.
Anti-trust is always good. But it is not the farmers merging. It has nothing to do with farming. Smash Wall Street, not farming.3. A moratorium on agribusiness mergers, and strenuous antitrust provisions and enforcement to protect what little is left of diversity in the food economy.
Agreed, but this does not go anywhere near far enough and is very weak and tame. We need to stop ALL patenting and copyrighting of life, ALL corporate funded and corrupted research, ALL introductions of crops and products into farming without testing and regulation by public agencies.4. A moratorium on all new genetically modified (GMO) products, and an expansion of existing ones, and appointment of a blue-ribbon panel/commission to assess the impact of GMO foods on our environment and our health.
But the liberals will not go there. They just want to spank Monsanto and have their organic veggie choices.
Agreed.5. A moratorium on – and gradual phasing out of – concentrated animal feeding operations, aka factory farms, which are among the nation's top polluters of water and air, and breeders of widespread and virulent bacterial strains.
Agreed.6. Dramatically expanded regulatory enforcement and staffing in the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration to protect food safety and meat industry labor and environmental practices.
The workers in that industry are organizing. That is what we should support. Not just there, everywhere. Inspection is the solution to hazards to the public. "Slowing" something is meaningless. Let the Union negotiate that on the ground.7. Slowing the hazardously fast meatpacking (and poultry) assembly line, to protect workers and consumers.
Tax breaks and grants for upscale entrepreneurs and hobbyists. No, no, no, no. There are existing programs to assist farmers. Stop with the "at tax payers expense" right wing rhetoric. If the organic people want to farm, there is plenty of land and federal funding available. But they have to farm.8. Incentives for small-scale urban, suburban, and rural farming ventures oriented toward diversified local food systems.
The USDA does this. But the big problem is that for the first time in history, we have a population that is 3 and 4 generations removed from their food source. Suburbanization again. Trying to remake farming to support the whims of the most upscale segment of suburbia is social suicide.9. Bold public investment in a raft of public awareness campaigns that build support, and expand markets and demand, for sustainable alternatives such as urban agriculture and gardening, and reducing fast-food consumption.
Capitalism is doing those things, not farming.Food is a vital cornerstone of both individual life and civil society, and our current system is making us fatter, churning out greenhouse gases, and abusing workers and animals.